Old Fashioned? Yeah Right

The best swim coaches association is the American one. Their certification process, information, clinics, magazine, service and recognition are light years ahead of anything else. If you happen to live in Outer Mongolia and are interested in swim coaching, do the ASCA certification process. That way you will be properly trained and the rest of the world will know what your qualifications mean.

ASCA should be made responsible for coaches training and certification around the world. The coaching trade is now so international it could do with some standardization. When he’s not being nagged to death by Jan Cameron a very good Pom called Rushton runs things in New Zealand. Sweetenham, an Australian, is in the UK. The Australian Institute of Sport has had its share of imports and there are even a few of us aliens in the United States.

But all of that is not the subject of this article. What I’m on about is a piece published in the most recent issue of the ASCA magazine. Have you seen it? It’s called “Old School”.

Before talking about that, and I promise this will be the last diversion, the same issue has a short piece by John Leonard called, “Rethinking the Womens’ 200 Freestyle” (Incidentally, the apostrophe should be before the s.) It’s a good piece and highlights aspects of women’s 200 swimming that have long required greater emphasis.

I disagree with one point. Leonard says, “Train children from an early age to take it out and go for it.” That’s a bit different from the Lydiard adage, “The advice to just keep up with the leaders has lost more races than anything else.” I agree with Lydiard. What should be done is to train children from an early age so that taking it out fast is physiologically easy. The trick is not going out fast; the trick is aerobically conditioning athletes so that what was fast is now slow, what was anaerobic is now aerobic, fifty-five for the first one hundred that was once an all out sprint is now just a firm swim.

You will recall it almost killed an aerobically unfit Roger Bannister to run four minutes for one mile. Today aerobically fit Kenyans can run twice that distance at the same speed. The difference? Aerobic conditioning.

And so back to the “Old School” article by Chris Davies. It’s great stuff. Just listen to this.

“Amanda (Weir) gained her speed through endurance training. If you want to go fast in the 50, 100 or 200 you do it through a concern about doing enough yardage to get the job done. Without background I am not convinced one can achieve the ultimate level. I stated it earlier and I think it bears repeating: the common denominator for fast swimming at any distance is hard work”.

Isn’t that just perfect? A guy who has the perception to see through the noise; none of that fancy stuff about 10×50 being a tough day’s work. Have you ever noticed how the phrase “training smarter” always begins a conversation that tries to justify being bloody lazy?

I see why Amanda Weir swam that American record. She was well trained. She earned it.

There are however two things I’d like to question.

If I’ve added up the mileage properly it comes to about 60,000 meters per week. Coincidentally that’s the same figure Sweetenham insisted UK coaches have their teams swim when he became their National Coach. In that case I thought his intentions were righteous enough but never understood the 60,000 meters. There are a million and one exceptions but it seems clear that if the purpose is to maximize aerobic development, then that occurs best at around 100,000 meters per week. If improving the aerobic cardio-vascular system, if increasing the density of capillaries is the goal, then that is best achieved by swimming 100,000 meters and for a long time, at least ten weeks every six months. Swimming 60,000 is better than the aerobic walk along the River Thames that Banister used to do, but it is not the physiological equivalent of the 100 to 120 miles per week of aerobic running done by those fast Kenyans.

Secondly, who came up with the title “Old School”? It’s bloody insulting to call it that. The training proposed by Chris Davis is not old school. It’s at the vanguard of where international swimming is moving. A few elite coaches, like Touretski, have had their athletes train 100,000 meters. The majority however beaver away at 30,000 to 40,000 meters mixing aerobic, anaerobic, sprint and every other category of training known to man. Physiologically their efforts bear no relationship to the aerobic work and development of those Kenyan runners. When we do follow their example then, Phelps and Hall’s times will join Roger Bannister’s. The good thing about the Chris Davies article is that it shines a light towards where we should go and that’s not old school.

PS – It has nothing to do with this article but I just got an email from seven year old Manuela:

Hi coach,

I am just writing to you because I am bord. In such little time I am going to Argentina. It happend so quickly and I am happier than I ever was before. I am going to have so much fun and the good thing is I can still do swimming there. I feel like the hapiese child on earth. Well I have to go bye bye Manuela!

Makes it all worth while, don’t you think?